Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

The Annapolis Sailboat Show as Vendors

Part of The Wirie team at the Annapolis Sailboat Show

Part of The Wirie team at the Annapolis Sailboat Show

What is that “Wirie business” I regularly mention on my blog, you might wonder. I don’t usually promote our products and try to keep my writing and our business separate, but since the second weekend of October was solely about that part of our lives and I have never explained The Wirie principles in a Roaming About blog, I figured I will give you a little bit of information about our “baby”, our business, what keeps us up at night and busy during the day…

Since 2009, when Mark and I invented, developed, built and sold The Wirie in St. Martin (Caribbean), and involved a partner in the States, we have come a long way with the concept and the business of getting connected long-range from your boat. Our WiFi-only device, The WirieAP+, is composed of the highest quality materials and offers the furthest range possible to get shore-based internet from the comfort of your boat (or RV). The Wiriepro, also a marine-grade product incorporating the newest technologies, offers the same service and convenience, but with the choice of using remote WiFi networks or 3G/4G/LTE cell connections to get online. This is a welcome flexibility, especially in less-developed areas or when WiFi is unavailable or unreliable and frustrating. We have been selling The Wiriepro for about eighteen months and it is a big success. The Wiriepro is the only device of its kind in the US, with which people can easily switch between WiFi and data connections, thanks to Mark’s software development skills. Our only competitors are located in Europe, where a similar product sells for 50% more money.

A little while ago, Allen, an entrepreneur who developed a boat automation system called YachtBrain, bought a Wiriepro from us to see whether he could integrate it with his product. Then, a couple of months ago, he asked whether he could borrow one of our demo Wiriepro units for the Annapolis Boat Show, as part of his display, and to promote our product a bit, which he thinks is amazing. We were flattered and promptly sent him one of our two “test” units used by sailing magazines for reviews and product comparisons. “Why don’t you join me in my booth and answer any potential Wirie questions yourself?” Allen suggested in a follow-up call. Our hearts skipped a beat. That was a fantastic plan: we could promote The Wirie products and check out the lay of the boat show land…

There was only one problem: the afternoon of that promising phone call, we had a Skype interview with the owners of a house we agreed to sit for three months, starting “approximately” on October 10th. The sailboat show (we weren’t interested in the subsequent power boat show) ran from October 6th through October 10th and the house sit took place in Northern California, 3000 miles away… When we talked to the friendly, accommodating couple in California, we were relieved to hear that they weren’t leaving until very early on October 14th. If we could make it there by the evening of the 13th to get acquainted and receive instructions, everybody would be happy. Mark and I decided to attend the sailboat show for four days instead of five, leave Maryland on Columbus Day and drive across the country in four days. It would be tough, but possible. We had a plan!

In 2007, when we were in the area, preparing our catamaran Irie to head south, we had visited the Annapolis sailboat show for the first time, as visitors. This October, while not technically being “vendors” since we were not selling any products, only giving information, we would experience the show from the other side. We printed Wirie “business” cards, laminated product overview sheets and designed T-shirts to wear at the booth. On October 5th, we made the long drive down to Maryland and thanks to the hospitality of family friends, we had a comfortable place to stay. A 30-minute walk brought us to downtown Annapolis and the boat show. Via Allen, we obtained “YachtBrain” vendor passes which allowed us to enter the gate for free, and come and go as we pleased. Carrying that pass, made me feel important and special!

Since this was Allen’s booth and initiative, Mark and I tried to remain in the background, only engaging when it was required or when people had questions. For four full days, from 10am until 6:30pm, we manned the booth with Allen and his wife Stephanie. We were on our feet the whole time, talking, explaining, waiting and walking around showing off our Wirie T-shirts. In the meantime, Mark had to keep up with customer support and the usual amount of business-related emails and phone calls, and I met a few sailing magazine editors I have worked with. I also talked to installers and publishers about our products. In the evenings, it was time to socialize with friends old and new. While we hope our time at the sailboat show was productive (time will tell), it was a pretty intense and exhausting long weekend.

What have we learned or confirmed?

  • Compared to most salesmen, it appears that we are “too” honest and straightforward. We do like it that way, though…
  • We really appreciate positive feedback and customers swinging by to tell us how great our product works for them.
  • We put more value in word of mouth and the happiness of our customers than blunt and misleading advertisements.
  • But, we do need to work harder on getting the word out about The Wirie. More boaters and competitors should know who we are and what we have achieved.
  • We are still cruisers at heart, knowing what it is to live on a budget, and want the price of our products to keep reflecting this.
  • Boat shows are really good for networking, promoting, meeting people, handing out cards and being social.
  • A lot of people did not find us, because we were not mentioned in any of the boat show literature, as part of YachtBrain. Getting our own booth – which is expensive – would have given us better exposure.
  • We should have put a note on our website about our presence at the Annapolis Sail Boat Show
  • I was surprised there weren’t more parties and after hour get togethers for vendors at the show or that we weren’t invited to any of the fun events.
  • You really need to “work your way up” to obtain respect, create contacts and secure a pole position booth you then rent for thousands of dollars.
  • Our deep gratitude goes out to Allen and Stephanie for generously sharing their booth with us. We wish them all the fortitude, interest, cooperation and resources they need to launch YachtBrain successfully in the near future!

Will you be at other sailboat shows or come back next year?

This is one of the questions we have heard a lot recently. We are not convinced a boat show is the right market for us to sell Wirie products. If it is just publicity we are looking for, a boat show venue might do the trick, but we think it would be hard to break even or make money after deducting the cost of transportation, accommodation, eating out, promotional materials and booth rentals at future boat shows. For now, we hope that our ads and the Coconut Telegraph (word of mouth by happy customers) do the job of increasing our sales.

Have you ever been to a boat show, or any other kind of hobby-related event? What were your impressions?

9 Comments

  1. Sounds like hard work so I hope you get some payback!

  2. This is such an interesting post, Liesbet, especially getting a perspective on the boat show from the vendor’s perspective. It sounds like it was a great learning opportunity. Fingers crossed the time and effort you put in results in increased sales.

    • It was definitely a learning experience. Not sure whether we will do it again, but it was interesting nevertheless and a good and “free” opportunity to get a feeling for being on a show exhibitor.

  3. I can’t imagine how exhausted you must be – all that work and then driving across the country! I used to work in aircraft sales and found shows so tiring – and wondered if it was worth it. Hopefully it will turn out to have been productive for you.

    • We sure were glad to arrive and get semi-settled again in a comfortable house after two weeks of “business”. But, how are you three doing after those long and tough days in the boat yard? I hope you will be able to rest at anchor for a bit, before you head on south!

      • We’re working on getting the boat back to a home instead of a workshop and are definitely relaxing before starting the trip south in a week or so.

  4. Green Global Trek

    October 18, 2016 at 21:27

    Wow lots of hard work time and effort to make it all happen!
    You guys are troopers!
    I know how tiring working a trade show is!! Without having a cross country trip added to that.
    Looks like a terrific product!
    Peta

    • Thanks, Peta. I had no idea that standing on your feet for days on end could be so exhausting! Have you been attending trade shows with Green Global Trek? Road traffic here is luckily a bit less hectic than in SE Asia… 🙂

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